On Friday night, I and several others went undercover to a crowded dinner party held by the Bassetlaw Conservatives Association and challenged the home secretary, Priti Patel, on her inhumane “Rwanda plan” to process offshore refugees. The newspapers called us a “mob”, but I know that we were simply standing up for what is right.
A lot had led up to this moment. We at Green New Deal Rising, who are based all over the UK, had been thinking for days about how to get our message across. We bought tickets to the event, knowing that if we had been outside we might not have been able to speak directly to Patel. On the way there I felt nervous, but determined. As we traveled there together we shared our stories of why we cared and why we were willing to take action despite the personal risk. This helped us remain focused and positive, even through our nerves. Dressing the part helped, too, and we spent time restyling our slightly “youthful” haircuts into something that wouldn’t ring alarm bells.
Once we were inside we took our places, spread out across a number of different tables in various groups. After Patel began to speak, our first challenger stood up and addressed her directly. “Priti Patel, your racist policies are killing people. Your plans to send people seeking asylum to Rwanda are inhumane and are going to ruin people’s lives.” Then it was my turn. By this point the crowd were booing and shouting at us, and security were trying to pull us away. But we stayed the course, standing one by one to peacefully protest and explain why we were there and what we were standing up for.
I’ve been asked whether I was afraid at this moment. It was definitely scary, but I also remember that, just before I stood up, I imagined the faces of people I have worked with who are migrants and refugees. These are the people at the real sharp end of these racist policies, and the least that we can do is passionately and repeatedly stand up to those in power who seek to persecute and scapegoat them just for seeking safety.
You may be thinking: if we’re climate context why are we getting involved in refugee legislation? It’s all connected. For one, the climate crisis will force many people to move. And many of the crises in the global south are the direct result of centuries of colonial exploitation by wealthy countries such as the UK. We believe it is the responsibility of our government to provide safety for people facing these situations. The “Rwanda plan” and the nationality and borders bill must continue to be challenged and scrutinised in parliament and in public. How we treat people seeking refuge and how we treat the most vulnerable people in the global community says a lot about Britain. Why wouldn’t we want to live in a country that supports people to rebuild their lives and to live free from persecution and violence?
And let’s be clear, Patel’s Rwanda plans are violent, possibly illegal, and inhumane. They have been condemned across society and will further harm those seeking safety. These are people who are escaping terrifying situations as they bear the brunt of the multiple crises of war, poverty and the climate catastrophe. The abuses that can accompany the offshoring of refugees, such as has happened in Australia’s center in Nauru, are widely documented. Sending people by force 4,000 miles away, to be detained for indefinite amounts of time is dangerous and cruel. By denying vulnerable people their right to safe asylum in the UK, and by following a model that, in Australia, led to an epidemic of self-harm and even suicide in processing centres, we as a nation are abandoning our legal and moral obligations.
As the dust settles on our action, I know that we did the right thing. No matter what the repercussions, history shows that if enough of us stand up and say, “No more”, we can make a difference. Already we’ve seen councillors and archbishops, teachers and people seeking asylum themselves condemning this government’s plans. The movement for compassion and hospitality is growing. It is these principles that will win out – not this government’s heartlessness.
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